I should first disclose that I am not a longstanding, seasoned user of online strategies in my pedagogy. In fact, aside from very basic use such as posting images online for my students to review, my first real foray into systematic, thought-through online pedagogical strategies began in the summer of 2015.
In my discipline, specifically the study of Mesopotamian art but more broadly art history, I see two somewhat different audiences for online resources: 1) students (or student-like users) looking for content about art history; and 2) educators looking for pedagogical support/sharing related to the teaching of art history.
With respect to online resources for student-like users, two main trends in online pedagogy are apparent: 1) how to recreate and/or enhance the kind of activities that take place in face-to-face teaching; 2) how to add to, that is do something different, from the kind of activities that take place in face-to-face teaching.
My own foray into online pedagogy was primarily aimed at student-like users, although a secondary audience of other educators is also relevant because of the open-access nature of my project.
The arts of Mesopotamia – the “land between the rivers” in what is today Iraq and Syria – represent some of the earliest complex artworks dating back to 3500. Works from intricately carved seals to sculpture offer a wealth of arts that inform on the social, political, economic, and religious spheres of multiple ancient cultures, including Sumer, Babylonia, and Assyria. The cultural heritage of Mesopotamia is particularly threatened at the moment due to the current political situation in Iraq and Syria.
Teaching this material at the undergraduate level, however, is a challenge as there is no reliable, up-to-date textbook available; the most recent usable textbook dates to 1954 (H. Frankfort, Art and Architecture of the Ancient Orient). Publication of a traditional, hard-copy textbook now is considered financially impractical.
In the spring of 2015, pursuing a Technology Fellows grant from the CER, I proposed a solution: to create on-line modules to be used in teaching my course Palaces, Temples and Tombs in Mesopotamia in fall 2015. These modules are designed as Open Education Resources (OER) using a pre-existing Internet platform, OpenStax CNX, hosted through Rice University, which promotes the production of small “knowledge chunks” in an open license venue. Materials for the modules consist of freely available content and content created by me and my graduate student fellows, Megan Lewis and Avary Taylor.
What is an OER? From the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation “Open Educational Resources are teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use and repurposing by others. OER include full courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, streaming videos, tests, software, and any other tools, materials, or techniques used to support access to knowledge.”
OER modules of instruction permit multi-media and non-traditional formats for conveying information, including virtual reconstructions and walk-throughs, videos, and hyperlinking in addition to providing up-to-date informational entries for the ancient artworks. For my course, I envisioned these modules as a means of engaging students before actual face time in the classroom in order to concentrate on discussion and exploration of the complex conceptual aspects of Mesopotamian art and culture during class time.
Over the 6-month period of the fellowship, five different modules were created and posted to the website at OpenStax CNX. They were an enormous asset to the class, because they provided background information and discussion points that were up-to-date in their content and specifically formulated to align with my class lectures and discussion. The modules also included helpful videos and virtual reconstructions of the ancient art that provided a fuller understanding for the students.
The online modules were evaluated through an online survey, developed with the aid of CER, and available to the students through JHU’s Blackboard (learning management system). All 12 students completed the anonymous survey, which consisted of 5 questions. 83.3% of the respondents said the modules were “very successful” in providing information related to the course content, while the remaining 16.7% said they were “somewhat successful.” The responses to the other questions were also generally quite positive, with appreciation for the multimedia components and for the fact that the modules aligned well with the lectures. Respondents found least useful about the modules some formatting issues inherent in the platform we used, and a few noted that they were slow to download.
Beyond the student reactions, I have had positive responses from colleagues in the field who expressed gratitude for making freely accessible materials on Mesopotamian art available.
The one downside for me was that the OERs did not necessarily promote a higher level of discussion as I had hoped; the modules were still too close to a textbook in terms of how students interacted with the materials
There were a few issues that we faced in developing the content, one of which was copyright. We had to rely on what was freely available online and that sometimes meant using videos that contained inaccurate material. We also had to work with the OpenStax CNX version of an html coding program that made certain things difficult to manipulate and constrained format in terms of relationship of image to text.
These drawbacks did not discourage me from using OERs. In spring 2016, I received an additional grant through the CER’s Technology Fellows program to produce more modules for my teaching with the assistance of graduate student fellows Megan Lewis and Avary Taylor.
The modules can be accessed through various search mechanisms on the OpenStax CNX website, including through the authors’ names: Marian Feldman, Megan Lewis, and Avary Taylor. They are:
- Cylinder Seals and the Development of Writing in Early Mesopotamia http://cnx.org/contents/863d1f28-bad9-42ab-a74c-c602256f9908@1/Cylinder-Seals-and-the-Develop
- Ur III: Continuity and Erasure http://cnx.org/contents/30f1bbbc-6341-4e2a-8d2a-53600a36a30d@1/Ur-III-Continuity-and-Erasure
- Late Bronze Age Internationalism and the International Artistic Style http://cnx.org/contents/98680d11-2374-4a98-aa91-d2708e2beff1@3/Late-Bronze-Age-Internationali
- Neo-Assyrian Palace Reliefs of Kings Tiglath-Pileser III and Sargon II http://cnx.org/contents/299a9d11-5c05-49c8-9844-6f042208b15c@1/Neo-Assyrian-Palace-Reliefs-of
- The Ancient City of Babylon http://cnx.org/contents/d49e45c8-931e-4dfd-a3e3-1d0dc0008d55@1/The-Ancient-City-of-Babylon
- Mesopotamian Votive Statuary from the Early Dynastic Period https://cnx.org/contents/k64PgmY0@1/Mesopotamian-Votive-Statuary-f
- Mesopotamian Cosmology and Mythology https://cnx.org/contents/OCYI18Df@1/Mesopotamian-Cosmology-and-Myt
- The Development of Sumerian Temple Architecture in Early Mesopotamia https://cnx.org/contents/Yip68Fa2@7/The-Development-of-Sumerian-Te
- Sargon the Great and the Charismatic Rulers of Ancient Akkad of Mesopotamia https://cnx.org/contents/4LSqiUv0@2/Sargon-the-Great-and-the-Chari
- The Babylonian Map of the World: A Portrayal of Mytho-Historic Reality https://cnx.org/contents/yM0T6acv@2/The-Babylonian-Map-of-the-Worl
- The ‘Victory Stele’ of Naram-Sin of Akkad and the Development of the Public Monument in Ancient Mesopotamia https://cnx.org/contents/YUbLWN2X@1/The-Victory-Stele-of-Naram-Sin
Marian Feldman, Professor, Departments of the History of Art and Near Eastern Studies, Johns Hopkins University
Image Source: A stitched image showing the Ishtar gate of Babylon in full view. Pergamon Museum, Berlin. Photo CC Radomir Vrbovsky, Wikimedia Commons.